Ah…Summer! The chirping of birds, the smell of freshly cut grass, the warmth of the sunshine, the sound of children playing, and the simple pleasure of walk in the park. There are so many wonderful sights and sounds that color our world. For many of us, there is nothing quite as spectacular as a rowdy summer thunderstorm, with its fantastic booms and strikes of bright lightning.
While we may find these storms entertaining, there are many dogs that experience serious anxiety during a thunderstorm. As a matter of fact, you may have a pooch that is normally very protective but at the first crack of thunder, finds comfort under your bed. Some dogs become so frightened that they pace, pant, bark, and can even become destructive, chewing or scratching at the floor or objects in an attempt to relieve their anxiety.
While you may be tempted to spoil your dog with hugs and baby talk to reassure them everything is alright, there are better ways to ensure your dog that he or she is safe and to teach them to manage their anxiety.
1. A Safe Place
Most dogs that are afraid of storms will usually find a place to hide on their own. Leaving their crate open or encouraging them to lie down in a small room will reassure them that they can go there to feel safe whenever they are afraid of the weather.
2. Shut Doors and Windows
We all love to experience a good old-fashioned thunderstorm will all of our senses, but take your pup into consideration and go sit on the porch, leaving them inside with the doors and windows closed so it remains quiet and he feels secure. Some of you may feel tempted to bring your dog outside with you, believing he may get used to it, but remember, you rationalize a storm by telling yourself, “it’s just a storm; the thunder and lightning won’t hurt me.” Your dog can’t rationalize a storm this way. Not only do dogs hear everything better than you, they don’t understand how or why it is going on. Some dogs have been known to run away during storms in an attempt to “escape” them. So, respect your dog’s feelings and leave them in the house.
3. Don’t Indulge Their Fear
The more of an effort you make to soothe your scared pet by fussing over them, the more anxious they may become. This can encourage their behavior by reinforcing their belief that you think something is wrong and that each time there is a storm they should behave in this manner. If your dog is whimpering or trying to climb on you, be supportive by remaining calm and talking to her in your normal voice while showing her to her safe room or distracting her with a fun activity.
4. Distract Your Dog
Some dogs (not all), can be distracted enough to forget about the storm if you play with them. Throwing a ball, playing tug of war, or wrestling with them will take their focus off the weather and some dogs even develop a positive association between thunderstorms and playtime with their people!
5. Desensitize Your Pooch
It’s not a ridiculous idea to start desensitizing your four-legged family member to the sounds of a storm before spring comes around, but you can do this anytime there is not a storm happening. Download sounds of thunder, or find some on YouTube, and listen to them at a low level while interacting positively with your pet. Do this every day or two, gradually increasing the volume of the recording, stopping if your dog shows any signs of fear. This is simply to get your dog used to the sound of thunder. Keep in mind, however, that this may only work to relieve some of your dog’s anxiety, since during a storm, there are also factors including barometric pressure, vibrations, and static electricity. The goal here is to make the anxiety manageable.
Yes, there is such a thing! Although its name suggests it’s used for thunderstorms, they can be used under any circumstances a dog feels anxiety. By applying a light pressure, the Thundershirt helps keep dogs calm by reducing their anxiety. Contact a local pet supply store in Saratoga Springs or the surrounding area for more information.
7. Ask the Vet
Veterinarians get asked all the time about how to reduce anxiety in dogs during thunderstorms. Calling your vet and asking for advice on behavior modification techniques or other tips on calming your pet may prove fruitful. In severe cases of storm anxiety, your vet may recommend an anxiety medication that you administer when there is a chance of a thunderstorm.
While some owners may experience positive results from these behavior modification tips, you may be unable to achieve success with these if your dog has severe fears.
There are many Saratoga Springs veterinarians that can work with you to find an anxiety management plan for your scared pup.
Remember that your dog is not overreacting and the fear is very real to them, so while not babying them is important, don’t punish them or act disappointed, this will only make their phobia worse. If you help to work them through their storm fears in a positive way, someday you may even be able to sit on the porch together!